#1 Like Stars in A Clear Night Sky

Like Stars in A Clear Night Sky makes me feel like I’m sitting in a desert and looking up at all the beautiful and clear stars, while a fellow traveller – perhaps someone I’ve only just met, is telling stories of their life, a life so different to mine, and yet quite alike.

When first entering the piece by Sharrif Ezzat you see a black screen and hear a man talk in Arabic with english “subtitles”. While the titles of the stories within the piece are said out loud, the black screen get’s filled up with stars, some brighter than others. The brightest (or bluest) are his stories.

As mentioned the piece consist of different short stories, styled almost as poems, and each of them have some sort of existential questions at the end. “Is this life a test? / Is that why we suffer? / Or is that how we endure it?” (Shall I tell you about my uncle whose life is a test?) or “What will it take to make him happy?” (Shall I tell you about my cousin, whose palace is unfinished?). The questions make the piece stick with the reader, at least it did with me, and the desert sky and arabic voice made me think of a culture so different from mine and yet close to it.

In my first notes about this piece I wrote that the stories were about people who are unhappy, and I think that is true to some extend, but as I have read them again I think the main theme of these stories are love, both the happy and less happy (not necessarily unhappy). There is the story of a man who is married to a woman who despises the place he is from, but I think he still loves her, or sees the part of her he fell in love with, even though other parts of her are now showing. In that story you could say the unhappiness lies within the couple.    

In another story (Shall I tell you about my sister? Please let me tell you about my sister …) the unhappiness is coming from outside. The storyteller’s sister falls in love with a man below her social class, which her parents disapprove, and they try to break them apart. Within this story I don’t necessarily think the couple in love are unhappy, not always anyway. Therefore I think the main theme of these stories are the struggles of love.

There is also larger narratives that goes beyond the family and friends of the storyteller.  In the story Perhaps I should tell you that the whole world is determined to become my family I get the idea that it’s about refugees; “Some are scared and seeking shelter. / Some are confused and don’t know how they / arrived. / Others are overjoyed. / And have already / Started cooking the first meal.”. I think this translates very well to what people immigrating to a new country must feel, while it also illustrates that no one has the exact same experience. I think there is an element of social criticism in this piece, even though it is more obvious in some texts than others.

Overall I really liked this piece it made me stop and think, instead of just be “something I had to read for a class”. Apart from that I really think the layout of it is beautiful and the text, audio and visuals really suit each other.  


Soliloquy

This week’s piece of electronic literature is Soliloquy, created by Kenneth Goldsmith.

I decided to go in without fully reading the description so that it would make for a bit of a surprise what would happen. When you at first open the piece you are greeted by two quotes that pertain to the work in some way, and to begin with I did not pay them that much attention, nor did I know what the title of the work actually meant, but I will be getting to that shortly. After these two screens you are given the freedom to pick a weekday, and from there an additional ten separate pages for each day to potentially explore. I randomly picked Friday, and was greeted by a single word; “Hi.”. I went on to page two, where there was an entire sentence, and so on until I tried to move the mouse around on page five. That was when it hit me that each of the pages were filled with a wall of text with seemingly little rhyme or reason. It was at this point that I took a step away from the work to read the description, as well as look up what the title meant and I reread the quotes at the beginning to help gain a better understanding of what was going on. Soliloquy is the act of talking out loud to yourself, and Kenneth had been recording himself doing just that for an entire week, before gathering it into one collective work.

Now, despite there being no sound or imagery I was still left with quite the impression when I first noticed that there was far more text on each page than I thought at first. It also meant the piece seemed a bit more overwhelming in the sense that there would simply be no way to really understand what all of the text is about, because it is in the end just a guy talking to himself. And in a similar fashion to when you think to yourself, the brain is pretty bad at sticking with one topic for too long, so Soliloquy in a way visualizes through text just how unstructured our thoughts can be even when spoken out loud in an informal setting. It also means that it doesn’t matter all that much what order you read it in as there is no greater narrative or meaning to the topics that are brought up.

Despite there being no sound or imagery I was still left with quite the impression when I first noticed that there was far more text on each page than I thought at first. It also meant the piece seemed a bit more overwhelming in the sense that there would simply be no way to really understand what all of the text is about, because it is in the end just a guy talking to himself. And in a similar fashion to when you think to yourself, the brain is pretty bad at sticking with one topic for too long, so Soliloquy in a way visualizes through text just how unstructured our thoughts can be even when spoken out loud in an informal setting. It also means that it doesn’t matter all that much what order you read it in as there is no greater narrative or meaning to the topics that are brought up.

This makes me question how it is considered a literary work. Because when it comes to literature you have a set of expectations as to how you understand them, yet so many of these are broken here.

Technically the piece is chronological, in that it overall takes place over the course of a week, but there is both the freedom to choose what day to explore, as well as a lack of other defined times that makes it difficult to discern what time of day a part of the text might take place. The same goes for place, as one can at best guess where Kenneth is for one sentence, yet the following line could be somewhere else entirely and you would never know without context. This is where I think the two quotes at the beginning of the work comes in;

“Don’t for heaven’s sake, be afraid of talking nonsense! But you must pay attention to your nonsense.” (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

Reporter: Why don’t you write the way you talk?

Gertrude Stein: Why don’t you read the way I write?

The first quote could perhaps suggest that it is okay if what is said makes no sense, as can be said for a lot of the work, yet at the same time it isn’t meaningless if you actually pay some attention to it. Even if not everything is clear to me as a reader there are still details to be found in the text that can paint a picture of a scene sometimes.

The second quote is an interesting one, as -indeed- the entire work is written the way Kenneth spoke for an entire week, and I feel this can be understood either literally or symbolically. Certainly, you can read it all in order and you will indeed read the work as it was written. Or you could read it in any order you like, and given how nonsensical the writing can appear to be then it stands to reason that so too can the order you read it in be. There doesn’t have to be some greater meaning as to why you read one part before another, just like how not everything you say during the day will be in a specific order. So how is it a literary work, exactly? Well, even if it breaks the conventional rules of literature, there is still some sense of time, place and progression going on throughout the text. It may come across as nonsensical, but it isn’t meaningless or pointless either.

In the end it makes for an interesting and thoughtful piece even in its simplicity. No pictures, no sound, only the written words that were spoken over the course of a week. And it does not have to be more than that to be intriguing.